Where does Madison’s water come from?
Madison drinking water comes from a deep, sandstone aquifer below the city. Groundwater originates as rain or snow which soaks into the ground and is naturally filtered through layers of soil and rock before replenishing the aquifer. Madison's water system consists of 22 wells, 30 reservoirs, and 840 miles of interconnected pipes.
I think there's a main break in my neighborhood. What should I do?
If you notice water bubbling up through a crack in the street, a sudden drop in water pressure, or a complete loss of water, call our 24-hour Emergency Hotline at (608) 266-4667.
Why should I conserve water?
Madison's aquifer is plentiful enough to meet the city's needs and then some, but we shouldn't take it for granted. If the utility has to meet rising customer demand every year to accommodate population growth, we must continually increase pumping and delivery capacity, and we could eventually need to find additional sources of water. Each increase in capacity and supply means increased costs to develop and operate; these, in turn, eventually lead to an increase in customer rates.
What is the average water use in Madison?
People in Madison use an average of 64 gallons of water per person, per day. Our goal is to reduce that number to 58 gallons by the year 2020.
You can help conserve water by taking advantage of our toilet rebate program and tracking your monthly, daily, even hourly water use online.
Here's how current average monthly water use breaks down by household size in Madison:
Number of People Water Used in Gallons One 1,800 to 2,900 Gallons Two 2,900 to 5,000 Gallons Three 5,000 to 7,000 Gallons Four 7,500 to 10,000 Gallons Five 10,000 to 12,500 Gallons
I got an official-looking letter from HomeServe about water service lateral insurance. Are they city-affiliated?
Homeowners across Madison have been receiving letters from a company called HomeServe USA offering insurance for water service lateral lines (the pipe that runs from the main under the street to a home). However, the company is not affiliated with the City or with Madison Water Utility, and the letters are simply part of a wide-spread sales campaign.
While it is true that water service line repairs are a homeowner’s responsibility, it’s a good idea to read the fine print before buying any insurance policy. You can also check with your current homeowner’s insurance company to see if lateral damage is already covered by your current policy.
Some homeowners may have purchased sewer line insurance through a company called Service Line Warranties. That company was selected by the City to sell optional coverage for sewer line service, repair or replacement.
Billing & Rates
Can I make a bill payment by phone?
Yes. Call (888) 978-0781 to pay your bill by phone.
There is a $1.99 processing fee charged by our payment processing vendor for all phone payments.
- You'll need the Customer Number and Account Number from your bill.
- Payment types accepted: Credit, Debit, ACH (Checking/Savings Account)
- Payment limit: $600
- Processing fee: $1.99
How do I open an account or ask questions about my account?
You may contact our billing office at (608) 266-4641 between 7:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
How does the Madison Water Utility set its rates?
Water rates are set by the state Public Service Commission through rate cases in which the utility requests pricing to cover its costs of providing the service.
What is the average amount of water people use in Madison?
People in Madison use an average of 68.5 gallons of water per person, per day. Our goal is to reduce that number to 58 gallons by the year 2020.
Here's how the current average monthly water use breaks down by household size in Madison:
Number of People Water Used in Gallons One 1,800 to 2,900 Gallons Two 2,900 to 5,000 Gallons Three 5,000 to 7,000 Gallons Four 7,500 to 10,000 Gallons Five 10,000 to 12,500 Gallons
PFAS - Frequently Asked Questions
What are PFAS?
PFAS are a widely-used class of more than 3,000 chemicals found in food packaging, stain resistant clothing, firefighting foams and nonstick cookware. Low levels of PFAS have been detected at two wells – Well 16 on Mineral Point Rd. and Well 15 off East Washington Avenue. While it’s not unusual for man-made chemicals to be detected at very low levels in city water, PFAS are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Is my water safe to drink?
Given that PFAS levels in Madison Wells 15 and 16 are well below the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory level and haven’t varied much since monitoring began, the water is not considered a potential threat to health. Public Health Madison Dane County does not recommend that residents invest in filtration systems or use bottled water at this time.
This guidance also applies to households that include pregnant women, infants and children, and the elderly since the EPA advisory considers these more sensitive populations when it is formulated.
(Information provided by Public Health Madison Dane County's Director of Environmental Health and Environmental Epidemiologist)
Does Well 15 or Well 16 serve my home?
Click to see the Well 15 (East Washington Ave.) and Well 16 (Mineral Point Rd.) service area maps:
The maps are meant to be an estimation of the service areas of the wells, averaging a range of operational conditions over the course of a year. Service areas for any well can change based on season, weather conditions (i.e. drought, heavy rainfall), loss of service at nearby wells, or other unforeseen changes in system operation
Where are the PFAS chemicals at Well 15 and Well 16 coming from?
Madison Water Utility believes the low levels of PFAS chemicals detected at Well 15 (on East Washington Ave.) have traveled in groundwater over several decades from Truax Air Field, where firefighting foams have been used. PFAS chemicals have been found in higher concentrations in groundwater at the base.
Unfortunately, cleaning up known contamination at Truax Air Field will not decrease PFAS detections at Well 15 for years or perhaps decades. It takes 35 to 50 years for PFAS to travel in groundwater from the air base to the well. We believe the chemicals we're seeing in the well now were used at the air base several decades ago.
It's unclear where the single PFAS chemical detected at Well 16 (on Mineral Point Rd.) is coming from, but it may be a nearby landfill.
How much PFAS was found at Well 15 and Well 16?
We have tested for 30 types of PFAS at Well 15 and detected ten. The total concentration of all types detected is 56 parts-pert trillion (or 0.056 parts-per-billion).
The EPA Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 70 parts-per trillion for PFAS is only for two types, PFOA & PFOS. Levels of those two types at Well 15 is 11 parts-per-trillion (0.011 parts-per-billion).
At Well 16, one type of PFAS was detected, called PFHxS. Levels were measured at 2.4 parts-per-trillion (0.0024 parts-per-billion).
According to Public Health Madison Dane County, the levels detected at Well 15 and 16 are not considered a potential threat to health, and the water is safe to drink. However, Madison Water Utility will continue monitoring to ensure levels do not rise significantly.
Is there a home filter that can be used to reduce the level of PFAS in drinking water?
Public Health Madison Dane County does not recommend that people who get water from Well 15 invest in filters or bottled water at this time. The water is not considered a potential threat to health and is safe to drink.
However, people searching for peace of mind may be interested in the following information about filtration.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health tested a small, in-home granular activated carbon (GAC) filter for PFAS removal. You can view the results here.
The agencies report that this type of filter was effective at removing PFC or PFAS from drinking water. A filter certified to meet ANSI/NSF P473 will reduce PFOA & PFOS down to the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 70 parts-per-trillion. However, detections of PFOA & PFOS at Well 15 are 11 parts-per-trillion, already significantly lower than the health advisory level.
As the Minnesota study showed, any filter will lose its effectiveness over time so it is important to install and maintain filters according to the manufacturer instructions. While not specifically rated and/or certified for PFAS removal, some types of activated carbon (charcoal) and reverse osmosis filters might also reduce PFAS levels in water.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has put together a fact sheet detailing in-home PFAS filtration methods.
Can Madison Water Utility take action to ensure there are no longer PFAS chemicals in our water?
Madison Water Utility is calling for the Wisconsin Air National Guard to clean up known contamination at Truax Air Field. Unfortunately, cleaning up contamination at Truax will not decrease PFAS detections at Well 15 for years or perhaps decades. It takes 35 to 50 years for PFAS to travel in groundwater from the air base to the well. We believe the chemicals we're seeing in the well now were used at the air base several decades ago.
If levels detected at Well 15 begin to increase dramatically, it would be possible to construct a treatment system to remove PFAS from the well's water. Activated carbon could remove PFAS from Well 15, which already has an air stripper to remove volatile organic compounds (VOC). However, the building footprint may need to be enlarged, and there is no space available on our property for expansion.
Any wellhead treatment at Well 15 or Well 16 would cost several million dollars and would take a minimum of two years to design and construct. However, we are investigating those options should PFAS levels rise significantly
The only way for Madison Water Utility to immediately ensure there are no longer PFAS chemicals in city water would be to shut down Well 15 on the east side and Well 16 on the west side (where trace amounts of PFAS may be coming from a nearby landfill). This would impact supply in large parts of the city, particularly during the summer months or if another well were to have a mechanical issue.
A shut down of Well 15 would likely mean more reliance on Well 8 and Well 23, both of which are used sparingly due to high levels of naturally-occurring iron and manganese
The loss of Well 16 would result in mandatory limits on water use from May to September and could limit fire protection capacity on the far west side.
Will Wisconsin set its own drinking water standard for PFAS?
We expect the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to recommend standard for PFAS to the Department of Natural Resources sometime this spring or summer.
Nine other states are setting their own standards for PFAS in drinking water. How do PFAS regulations in other states compare with levels found in Madison?
Well 15 levels are currently lower than regulatory levels set in Minnesota, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and North Carolina. They are not lower than the standard set in Vermont. Click here to see PFAS guidance set in other states and look at how levels at Well 15 compare.
We expect the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to recommend a standard for PFAS to the Department of Natural Resources sometime this spring or summer.
Can Well 15 be shut down?
Yes. It is possible to shut down Well 15 and use other wells to supply water to the area.
Shutting down Well 15 would reduce the overall reliability of the water supply system on the east and north sides of Madison during summer months (the area east of the Yahara River, from the northern city limits to Buckeye Rd). In 2018, Well 15 pumped 370 million gallons of water into the system. Less than one percent of the water pumped is consumed. The rest is used for fire protection capacity, sanitation, cleaning, irrigation, etc.
A shut down of the well would also likely mean more reliance on Well 8 and Well 23, both of which are used sparingly due to high levels of naturally-occurring iron and manganese
Madison Water Utility looks to Public Health Madison Dane County, the DNR, and Wisconsin Division of Public Health for guidance on this and other issues. None of those agencies has suggested that we should consider shutting down Well 15 due to the levels of PFAS detected in its water. A decision to shut down Well 15 would also end Madison Water Utility’s testing program for PFAS at the well.
Will the WI Air National Guard / Dept. of Defense pay for PFAS removal at Well 15?
National Guard officials have informed us that they will not fund PFAS removal at Well 15 unless levels at the well rise above the EPA's Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 70 parts-per-trillion for PFOA & PFOS. Current levels of PFOA & PFOS at the well are 11 parts- per-trillion.
What do I do if my water is discolored?
Water from Madison's aquifer often contains low levels of naturally occurring iron and manganese, which can accumulate as sediment in water mains. The minerals aren’t considered harmful, but their accumulation over time can cause water to have a slight brown or reddish tint. We regularly flush our water mains in the spring and summer months to push out the sediment, but that action -- or any other disturbance such as fire suppression, a main break, contractor work, or a flow test -- can temporarily stir up the sediment that causes discolored water. If your water becomes discolored, run a cold water tap in the basement at full force until the water clears. Usually it clears in just a few minutes. If it doesn’t, call the utility Water Quality hotline at (608) 266-4654.
Why does my water smell like chlorine?
A small amount of chlorine (generally about 0.3 milligrams per liter) is added at each wellhead to kill any viruses or bacteria that could be present in groundwater. This harmless amount of chlorine helps keep the water protected all the way to your tap. We add chlorine as a gas, which does allow it to dissipate out of the water. If you are bothered by a slight chlorine smell or taste, you can fill a clean pitcher with cold water, leave the container at least partially exposed to air, and let the water sit. Most, if not all, of the chlorine will dissipate within 12 hours. The container can be left on the counter or in the fridge -- the key is to not completely seal the container.
What is Madison's “water hardness” and how does it affect me?
Madison's tap water is considered to be “very hard,” because of the minerals such as calcium and magnesium in the rock formations from which we draw water. This water contains 18-20 grains of hardness per gallon. There are no harmful health effects associated with these minerals (in fact, some believe they are beneficial), but measuring them does provide a guideline as to how water use may be affected. For example, hard water does result in more scale buildup and you need to use more soap and detergents. If you choose a water softener, it's recommended that a separate, unsoftened supply of water be kept for cooking and drinking. Ion exchange water softeners remove hardness by replacing the calcium and magnesium with sodium salt.
Also, when you buy a new appliance, such as a dishwasher, the manufacturer often makes reference to water hardness. This is because hard water can cause automatic dishwashers to leave film on dishes and build-up of minerals on mechanical parts. It may also cause washing machines to leave residue on articles of clothing and scales that clog water pipes or foul appliances such as water heaters.
If I am on a salt-restricted diet, will the sodium in drinking water hurt me?
The short answer is no. For an individual on a restrictive sodium diet who consumed two liters of water daily, the City of Madison’s drinking water would account for no more than 4.7 to 14.1% of the allotted sodium budget, dependent upon the severity of the restriction (1,500 to 500 mg per day). For more detailed information, click here.
Why do we add fluoride to Madison's water?
We began adding fluoride to Madison's water in 1948 at the direction of the Common Council. The move was part of a city policy to reduce the risk of dental cavities, particularly for children with little access to routine dental care. Madison Water Utility follows the recommendation of the Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC) with regard to fluoride levels added to drinking water. In 2014, PHMDC issued an updated policy statement on Fluoridation of Public Drinking Water.
Why does drinking water often look cloudy when first taken from a faucet and then clear up?
The cloudy water is caused by tiny air bubbles in the water similar to the gas bubbles in carbonated soft drinks. After a while, the bubbles rise to the top and are gone. This type of cloudiness occurs more often in the winter, when the drinking water is cold.
What is wrong if I smell a rotten egg odor when I run water in the house?
The smell of rotten eggs indicates the presence of hydrogen sulfide. The odor originates as sewer gas being displaced from the drain when the tap is run. A simple test is to fill a glass of water, take it to a room that has no water, and then sniff the water. If the water no longer has an odor, the drain is the source. A remedy for cleaning the drain is to pour one-quarter cup baking soda down the drain and follow it with a cup of vinegar. When the fizzing stops, flush the drain with boiling water. If your tap water has an unusual taste or odor, call the Water Utility at (608) 266-4654.
What is the white residue on pots and pans after I boil water?
Madison tap water is very “hard.” Groundwater sources contain significant amounts of calcium and magnesium hardness, and Madison is no exception. The minerals in the water leave a conspicuous white residue or spots when water is boiled or evaporates. This residue is primarily calcium and is not harmful to human health. Even if you have a water softener, in most homes the kitchen cold water tap is plumbed to receive unsoftened water that still has calcium and magnesium.
How do you make sure my water safe to drink?
Madison Water Utility’s testing team conducts more than a thousand tests every month to continuously monitor quality and safety. Our water more than meets strict Federal and State drinking water standards and complies with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
- Latest Annual Drinking Water Quality Report
- Find out the water quality for wells serving your address
For more information, call our Water Quality Department at (608) 266-4654.
How does the Water Wagon work?
The Water Wagon is a fresh water system, not a tank. We hook it up directly to approved hose bibs at parks and other areas throughout Madison. The water is then cooled inside the wagon and comes out of the taps cold, fresh and ready to quench thirsts!
How do I request the Water Wagon at an event I am organizing?
Fill out a Water Wagon Request Form and submit it to us at least two weeks before the event. Event requests are evaluated and approved based on the availability/proximity of a water source, staff availability, and the event's expected attendance, mission, and promotions.
What is the cost to use the Water Wagon?
Bringing the Water Wagon to an event is considered an in-kind sponsorship, as Madison Water Utility does incur costs to maintain, set up and staff the Wagon. In exchange for our bringing the Water Wagon to events, Madison Water Utility must be included as a sponsor on all event promotional materials. To request a logo for promotional materials or to find out more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is permitted to use the Water Wagon?
The Water Wagon is intended to be used at outdoor events within the Madison Water Utility service area.
What do I need to provide while the Water Wagon is at my event?
Organizations should provide any desired water vessels, such as biodegradable cups, refillable water bottles, etc.
In addition, any organization requesting the Water Wagon must agree to comply with the following:
- Our staff must have easy/clear access to the site location.
- The Water Wagon cannot be dropped off the night before or left unattended at any time.
- In an emergency or inclement weather situation, we have the authority to cancel the Water Wagon's participation at an event.
We are interested in building a Water Wagon. Can we get plans or talk to the staff members who designed and built it?
The Water Wagon is Madison Water Utility's own original design and includes proprietary components and details. Please contact us if you're interested in building your own.
Can the Water Wagon be hooked up to a fire hydrant?
Hydrants are installed for fighting fires, and water delivered from them is considered non-potable. The Water Wagon cannot use fire hydrants as a water supply.